In his new documentary “Daughters Of The Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story Of The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,” Oscar-nominated “Murderball” director Dana Adam Shapiro tackles our country’s evolving morality in the 1970s through the lens of one of the most overtly sexual icons in American popular culture at that time.
In the 1960s, the cheerleaders at Dallas Cowboy games were mostly area high school and college boys and girls who never earned much notice on the sidelines. As legend has it, a local stripper named Bubbles Cash stirred up the Cotton Bowl in 1967 when she walked down the bleachers towards the 50-yard line in a very short skirt carrying two spindles of cotton candy that resembled pom-poms. It was like a bolt of lightning striking Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm, and the infamous Cowgirls were born shortly after.
By 1972, the squad featured, as one subject in the film puts it, “the most sexed-up cheerleaders anywhere.” And it wasn’t just done for the stadium crowds. The team’s executives knew they’d earn more screentime in on-air broadcasts, changing the future of the NFL for television. The sacred and profane often mingled side-by-side in Dallas, but the skimpy uniforms the cheerleaders wore caused quite a stir. Coach Tom Landry’s own wife did not appreciate them at all and insisted on adding “modesty shields” to the outfits which, we’re told, lasted one half of one game.
By 1976 and Super Bowl X, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders were a national phenomenon. Their impact went far beyond games; they turned up on “Family Feud,” “The Love Boat,” on calendars and posters, and at frequent charitable events and even on USO tours. But it wasn’t all fun and games, as many of the women interviewed on screen say; they only earned $15 per game and were not compensated for their practices and travel.
What the young women on the squad did have was a mentor and all-around den mother in Suzanne Mitchell, who was the subject of three sit-down interviews for this film before her death in September 2016. She often worked seven days a week, 18 hours a day, and was the only female executive within the organization. She worked tirelessly to protect the interests of the women on the squad and to try and keep their activities wholesome.
This slickly edited documentary features stunning archival footage and new interviews with many key cheerleaders from 1972-1990, but the core revelations here come from Mitchell’s interview footage, which offers a unique perspective directly from the person responsible for running the show for 140years. By all accounts, she was a formidable champion who worked tirelessly to be an advocate for her employees. One of the most tortured moments of her job was when the infamous X-rated feature “Debbie Does Dallas” was released and she spent months in a legal battle with the film’s producers for tarnishing her carefully curated image of the team. Any notion of innocence was shattered at that point, as the porn stars even wore replicated team uniforms on screen.
Shapiro wraps up his film with the end of Mitchell’s tenure with the team, which ended four short months after Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys in early 1989. When Mitchell left, 14 veteran cheerleaders left with her. It was truly the end of an era.
“Daughters Of The Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story Of The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders” screens again at 9:45 p.m. March 12 at the Rollins Theatre and at noon March 17 at the Alamo South Lamar. Grade: B